Blog Archives

Perception versus reality

Making the decision to change direction mid-career is not easy.

I spent over a decade in the construction industry, first as a draftsperson, later as a market analyst, working in both Australia and the UK. While for a time the data nerd/maths geek in me enjoyed analysing the dynamics of supply and demand on materials and labour costs across the industry, I found I was becoming more interested in the people and organisations bringing projects to market.

After months of deliberation (and procrastination), I realised further study was the only viable option to take me where I wanted to go in the long-term. I enrolled in a postgraduate Diploma of Psychology with the intention of pursuing it through to a Masters.

Earlier this year, with the majority of my first degree completed, I made the move back home to Melbourne from London. Looking for a role that would leverage my industry knowledge and complement my ongoing studies, an opportunity presented itself… enter Slade Group.

My preconception of the recruitment industry was of pushy twenty-somethings cold-calling businesses in a frantic effort to meet daily sales quotas. Presumably little thought was given to understanding candidates’ personalities and motivations, nor the cultures of the businesses recruiters represented. It seemed to me the odds of landing on a considered, collaborative process, let alone matching the right candidate with the right role, were similar to spinning zero in roulette.

After carefully researching the role, I admit I still had a degree of trepidation when I decided to take on a consulting role. My perception of recruiters had changed, but the reality once I was in the job was even further from those first thoughts.

So, what’s it really like being a recruiter?

Sure, as with all professional services, business development is part of the process of managing a client portfolio. However, calling potential hiring managers with the intent to set-up a face to face discussion is not a pointless numbers game; meeting with employer clients allows us to develop a deeper understanding of their organisation, its vision and mission, and the type of people who are suited to the culture. Typically I have found employers appreciate a consultative approach – the depth of my inquiry to gain a sound understanding of their needs is authentic.

I’ve worked with great companies who are involved in some exciting projects, particularly during the current construction and infrastructure boom in Victoria. And I’ve connected with some highly talented people who will remain in my professional network.

As I return to full-time study to complete the last chapter of the qualifications I mentioned earlier, I’ll be able to apply the practical knowledge I’ve gained in the recruitment business. When it’s my time as a hiring manager, I’ll have a greater appreciation for the tangible benefits that top talent are seeking in a prospective employer (flexibility, a positive culture, development opportunities…). I will also be attuned to some of the prerequisites that can ease frustrations on both side – a well thought through job description, clear strategic hiring objectives and a thorough briefing from the organisation.

What have you learned through experience that has changed your perception about an industry or a particular role?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Work ethic and the M word

Over the years as an HR professional I have seen several generations at work. Putting people in boxes goes against the grain with me – most workers defy categorisation, let me tell you!

So when people start talking about Boomers and Xers, Ys and Zs (or broadly Millennials, if you’re trying to capture those at the end of the alphabet) as clearly defined cohorts, I’m naturally suspicious. We’ve been battling the unfair assumption that those new to the workforce expect the world or don’t seem to be aware they have to earn their stripes for millennia. I have always been someone to give credit where credit is due, so I wanted to share a couple of feel-good stories to counter those stereotypes.

The chicken or the egg

Life for graduates is certainly not easy. With the number of students in higher education in Australia on the up and up, more and more are graduating, and those with similar qualifications are often finding themselves vying for the same positions. Many companies prefer to hire someone with experience, but how do you get experience if no one is willing to give you a job to get it? Sometimes it takes a little bit of creative thinking, so I’m always happy when I see graduates really taking ownership of their careers by thinking about different ways they can gain experience.

Recently I was speaking to a graduate who was desperately trying to find work to get started in their career. Like many others, they were having trouble getting a foot in the door. What about volunteering? they asked me. What a great idea! I said. Because I work with a number of Not-for-Profit organisations, I was even able to find them volunteer work in their field of expertise (IT). This graduate is now gaining valuable on-the-job experience in their field while giving back to the community. And who knows, in recruitment we often see candidates in temporary roles offered a permanent position.

Going the extra mile, or the long commute

A former colleague of mine asked me if they could introduce me to a talented HR graduate, even if it was just for a coffee and a chat. I was more than willing to do this, as you never know who you could meet. I found her to be a bright and ambitious candidate, willing to try anything to get a break. While she was impressive, I didn’t have any suitable positions I could help her with at the time.

As is often the case, a few weeks later I was speaking to a client who needed HR administration support. I arranged an interview for the candidate. The outcome – she was offered a job with the company. It sounds easy and perhaps a bit too good to be true, but when I informed the candidate that one of the details about the role was that it would be over an hour drive each way, she did not flinch. I admire that dedication. She has stuck with the company despite a long commute, which has obviously paid off – she loves her new job!

A positive work ethic means different things to different people. The next time you hear someone go off on a negative my generation vs your generation rant, don’t be afraid to challenge their perception. I’d love to hear about some of the creative approaches you have seen from jobseekers and employers to meeting current challenges in the world @work.

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Posted in Slade Executive

How everyone can develop resilience: 3 things you can do right now.

Resilience: The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

Or in my words: “Being able to take a hit, and get back up and keep fighting.”

Recently relocating from Sydney to Melbourne, let’s just say I appreciate the differences between the two!  Coming from a retail background, not only did I have to adjust to a different work style in the corporate world, but there were the challenges of moving to a new city, making new friends and starting a new job that anyone who has ever been an ‘expat’ will relate to.

Any major life change can be daunting. While I knew there was a chance my move might not be successful, I also knew that if I didn’t step outside my comfort zone to make the move, then I would never know.

In all aspects of life, we need resilience. It builds strength of character, enhances relationships and most importantly, helps us to be at peace with ourselves.

Monique Slade from Springfox and The Resilience Institute shared her personal experience with our team in a training session this week. Speaking about her role model for resilience, Monique told us about her mother, who at the age of 50, unexpectedly lost her husband to illness. With young kids and no financial security, she found herself at a crossroad. Instead of spiralling downwards into distress, she chose to master the stressful situation, engage her emotions and spirit into action. It was a lesson in resilience for herself, and for her children.

Hearing Monique’s story was extremely empowering. It made me realise that we all make choices. While life rarely goes the way we planned it, we choose our mindset, have control of our actions and can model the person we want to be.

As for me, going from being a Sydneysider to a Melburnian wasn’t all smooth sailing.  There are some noticeable cultural differences (Melbourne cafes, pretty hard to beat – Sydney, you got the weather) and comparing a corporate culture to a retail environment – so many processes and procedures to learn, but so little stock!

Here are three take outs from our resilience training that have helped me, which you can use right now:

  1. Give yourself credit – You have the resources within you to be more resilient. Think about the times in your personal or professional life where you may have struggled, survived and bounced back.
  2. Stop ruminating – Focus on the here and now. Don’t let your mind drift into worrying about the past or the future. Learn mindfulness or focusing techniques to train your brain to stop creating its own stress.
  3. Take a deep breath – I volunteered to be hooked up to a heart rate monitor at our training session to see how a few deep breaths could lower my stress level. Breathing is now part of my morning routine.

Taking risks to strive for the things we want in life helps us to recognise our achievements. Don’t get hung up on What if? Just give it a go. I now know that I am capable of great things. Whatever life throws at me, I’m a little bit more prepared to deal with it. I am resilient.

How have you learned to overcome adversity and become more resilient in the world @work? What are some of the strategies you use to maintain your grace and control?

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Posted in Slade Education, The world @work

References – pathways to gold

What’s been debated, outsourced, digitalised and recorded… but in the end come full circle?

Yes, the answer is those essential in depth candidate Reference Checks that have stood the test of time.

Talking with my colleagues and clients, we all agree they form part of the recruitment process that demands more than a nod and a tick for due diligence. Thorough reference checking is due diligence and meets some tick the box compliance needs, but more than that, it’s a gold plated step on the path to finding out more about a candidate, such as areas for development once on-boarded with your organisation.

Here are my 3 ‘Insider Tips’ as a seasoned ‘Referencer’:

  1. Asking for references from your candidate
    Do it at the start of the recruitment process – it will give you an indication of how serious the candidate is about the position. At interview I cross-check to verify the referee names and ensure that those provided are direct managers – if not, I’ll ask why.  If a candidate is hesitant to provide referee details, it could be a red flag. Without referees there’s also a high possibility the candidate will withdraw from the process.
  2. Ask for the referees you want, not the friendliest manager/colleague they want to give
    Don’t settle just for first named referees as candidates tend to provide referees who they know will say good things about them. Obtaining in-depth information is important and can be challenging so make sure you ask to reference them with their last manager, not their last ‘friend’ at work.

  3.  Conducting the reference check
    Ideally I conduct reference checks over the phone or even face-to-face. At Slade we give referees the opportunity to provide detailed information, as opposed to collecting graded responses (yes, no, good, ok etc. don’t tell us very much). It’s important the referee isn’t rushed and is able to talk about the candidate at length. This conversation often takes 15 – 30minutes and you’ll be looking to confirm and complement the information gleaned from earlier candidate interviews.

References are an ideal time to get clarification on any question marks about a candidate. In addition to standard reference questions about past performance, we gather insight into how best to induct the new employee into the organisation, as well as key areas of focus when managing the new hire.

I’ll ask follow-up and probing questions to uncover the full story, counter any bias, and provide all the information to make the best hiring decision possible.

References are a gift, not a bore!

What have you learned from reference checking? Have you changed your approach to references recently?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Call out for a call back!

Something I learned a number of years ago… always follow through with what you say you are going to do in business. Close out the deal, finish the process, you get the drift. If you say you are going to do something, then do it. If something is going to stop you from delivering on your promise, then face up to it, and come up with a solution.

In recruitment, sometimes we hear people say that recruiters don’t call them back when they have applied for a job. I understand this happens, and I’d like to think our processes are strong enough at Slade Group, that it is not a frequent occurrence with our candidates.

Whether it be an email to say that, unfortunately, you have been unsuccessful with your online application or a phone call to provide feedback after you have interviewed with a prospective employer, it’s the least we can do to be honest with candidates. It’s also the least we want to give – we often provide career advice, referrals to other employment opportunities and build lasting relationships with candidates who in turn become clients over the years. Slade Group is also an ISO 9001 Quality Accredited executive recruitment firm, our reputation with our customers (both clients and candidates) is on the line, so we really do want to get back to you.

For good measure, I always ask every candidate I have met to ensure that they keep in touch with me as well, within a timeframe we have agreed.

It makes sense in business (in fact any relationship) that you’re likely to be more successful if you endeavour to build rapport with the people you are dealing with. For a candidate, the recruitment process typically means taking a big step in their career. For the organisations we represent, there is an element of risk to taking on a new employee and we do our utmost to ensure the candidate we refer is the right fit.

So it’s a little puzzling when, well into negotiations with a candidate, I have put forward a great offer from the company I am representing and then there is… silence, crickets! You begin to wonder what has happened?

Giving the elusive candidate the benefit of the doubt (maybe they are sick or maybe they are caught up in a meeting?) it’s OK to excuse a couple of hours. However, if the candidate is a person who is usually on top of returning calls it can certainly be disconcerting.

Recruitment can be like dating, sitting around waiting for someone to call you… after a while you get the drift, and you know they aren’t going to call. You have most likely experienced it or may have even done it yourself. (Why don’t they call???)

If you are dealing with a recruiter who has put you forward for a role and being a highly sought after talented individual, you receive an offer, I encourage you to act with integrity and finish the process. Talk to your consultant about why you have reservations about taking the role. A good recruiter will listen, see if there is something they can do to help, and if not you can still walk away. Leave a good impression, be professional, finish the process. Regardless of the outcome. It’s polite, courteous and the very least you could do.

 

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Posted in Slade Executive

The agony and the ecstasy

It’s the last week in September – one of the most eagerly awaited weeks in the Australian sports calendar… AFL finals fever is palpable! Recently Slade Group and the Interchange Bench were fortunate enough to get our own Aussie Rules footy fix, hosting well-known football journalist Caroline Wilson, CEO of Geelong Football Club, Brian Cook and Marc Murphy, Captain of Carlton FC at our annual Footy Lunch.

Our panel (with me as MC) rapidly covered off: Who can beat Richmond this year? (Collingwood); Can the West Coast Eagles win at the MCG? (I think so); How long will it take Carlton FC to make the final eight? (About 3-4 years!); And why are players leaving the Suns? (Global warming??)

Seriously though, what was most interesting about our panel discussion was Marc Murphy’s take on the current state of player welfare.

Back in the 80s, when I was playing, the big question was how do we get into Chasers nightclub and the Underground (without queuing, and a drink card would be nice too, thanks)? Innocent times in comparison.

Seriously though, Marc got everyone’s attention when he identified health and wellbeing as the top issue facing current AFL players. As someone who works in the people capital business, I was really interested.  Let’s talk about them here:

Mental Health

This is a massive issue, so much so that the AFL Players Association (AFLPA) has established a specialised in house Mental Health and Wellbeing team to provide counselling to current and past players. Statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reveal that up to one in five Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime – AFL players are no different.

Stress

All of us have work pressures – present stressors that can lead to mental health issues. However as AFLPA Head of Mental Health and Wellbeing Brent Hedley wrote, the current stressors for players include: performance anxiety, public scrutiny, media attention, injury and being away from the family. The public spotlight simply magnifies these stressors.

General Health and Wellbeing

Other common health issues amongst AFL players may include: depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol problems, eating disorders and gambling, side effects from injuries such as concussion, not to mention a whole range of other physical injuries related to contact sport. They may appear to be super human on the field, but often spend more time off field recovering.

Social Media

Social media can be a frenemy, especially for high profile footballers. Hedley’s advice is “Social media can be a confronting environment for players and cause significant stress, but it can also be one that gives players a chance to express themselves and show their human side.” This highlights the importance for players in having a strong network away from their sporting identities, which can support them when football is causing them stress.

Our Footy Lunch was a great event – we even picked a winner for Saturday (that’s right, your tip’s the one)! Yet Marc’s comments really hit a nerve with me. Footy players are like you and me (well, perhaps a bit more like me)… They win, they lose, they struggle, they laugh and they cry. The major difference is for a sports star, it’s all played out on an open stage for everyone to see. Players need help in the workplace from time to time, just like us. I think it’s great to see through the AFLPA that they’re getting it.

How do you manage stress and other pressures in your workplace? What are some of the strategies you have used to help improve the health and wellbeing of others @work?

 

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Posted in Slade Executive

There’s an Engineering skills shortage. Here’s one way to solve it.

It might not be news to some, but the current shortage in engineering skills is widening. While there have been many reports on this topic, I haven’t seen one that provides an adequate solution to the ever growing problem.

So what’s the answer, introduce more science and mathematics learning at an early stage? This might be easier said than done, as we are also facing a huge shortage of specialist maths and science teachers. Independent sources attribute a range of factors, including the failure to attract new teachers (particularly men) to the profession, imminent retirements and poor retention rates.

Whether it’s teachers or engineers, recruiting highly skilled migrants in Australia is costly.

One option that has worked for me is re-employing retired engineers into positions where they can add significant value.

Recently I organised a successful meeting for a candidate who had left the workforce with a company that had a short to medium-term contract opportunity.

The mutual benefits were clear: the company hired a highly qualified candidate (an engineer with over 40 years of experience in the Civil/Structural Engineering field) at short notice who could resolve their issues within the timeframe; the candidate enjoyed the flexibility of working on a stimulating project without a long-term commitment.

Employing professionals returning to the workforce has the following benefits for your organisation:

  • Fill short-term roles with an experienced candidate quickly
  • Retirees are more likely to consider a short-term opportunity than a candidate who is ultimately seeking permanent full-time work
  • Older employees can pass on valuable sector knowledge and transfer sought after skills to less experienced employees
  • 40 years + in the workforce brings with it well-established industry networks, and can provide introductions and mentoring opportunities for future leaders
  • Depending on skillsets and recent technical knowledge, minimal training or upskilling is typically required

Returning to the workforce also has benefits for retired and semi-retired candidates:

  • Feeling valued through their work by continuing to contribute to innovation, benefit society, and be involved in the business or the broader community Keeping your mind active, which could be beneficial to longevity[1]
  • Financial benefit

Overall, hiring older professionals in any field helps break down the stigma of ageism and reminds people that age should not be a barrier to work performance. In areas such as engineering, where chronic skills shortages have been identified, it makes perfect sense to reemploy when hiring for project-based roles and short to medium-term opportunities in particular. I’d like to see more employers jump on board and give it a go.

Have you employed a retired professional or do you know someone who has recently returned to the workforce after retirement? What was the experience like for both parties?

 

[1] There have been a number of studies to support this. In 2010 paper by economist Susann Rohwedder of RAND and Robert Willis of the University of Michigan (both were at Age Boom Academy). Looking at data from the U.S., England and 11 European countries, they concluded that retirement had a significant negative impact on the cognitive ability of people in their early 60s. They speculate that retirement can lead to a less stimulating daily environment. The researchers also wonder if people nearing retirement are less mentally engaged in their jobs (source Chris Farrell, Next Avenue Contributor).

 

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Invitation to the Future: We’re ready.

Last year enough was spoken about my 50 years in business to spur me on for another 50 years.  Thank you to longstanding colleagues, clients, candidates and industry stalwarts who were in touch and recalled our times together. (Eating carnations from the vases on the tables after a big boozy dinner  in the 1980s was one I’d forgotten, but the year we hired over 50 executives for the one organisation was one I still remember – long days and satisfying results.)

Other than to sit and watch some good footy on the weekends, I’m a restless soul; thinking, adapting and staying abreast of sector trends and new ways of working. Celebrating the first 50 years gave me time to reflect, but my mind is clearly focused on the future.

In this blog I thought I’d share the fact that in recent years we’ve restructured the broader business and set ourselves up for future success. In doing so my Advisory Board and I considered a number of points:

  • The future of recruitment and the balance between technology, people, systems and processes
  • National and global trends
  • Shifts in market expectations
  • Shifts in employee trends
  • Future proofing a professional services model for a new economy
  • Succession planning (as none of the four Slade children is likely to come into the business)

We now have four discrete businesses, and whereas I was once the sole proprietor across the group, the future for professional services firms lies in distributed ownership and partnerships. I first stepped carefully into a new way of thinking (for me) and now three of the four businesses have equity partners and we’re seeing the growth and stability that comes from this model.

Yellow Folder was the first partnership I entertained five years ago, with Julian Doherty, Slade Group’s previous Director of Research.  Now working with many in the ASX 200 and across education and also Government, it is a research-based management consultancy that delivers corporate knowledge advantage, providing clients greater agility in business planning and talent acquisition strategy.

The service offerings are:

  • Competitor Profiling & Business Intelligence Analysis
  • Talent Investigations & Capability Search
  • Remuneration Benchmarking
  • Talent Pools & Candidate Pipelining

TRANSEARCH.  Most of us now agree with Peter Drucker’s comment “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. For many years, what I saw missing from the Executive Search landscape was an assessment tool or process that could untangle the knotty issue of culture fit at a senior executive level.  Canadian Organisational Psychologist Dr John Burdett and Orxestra©, developed the tools that TRANSEARCH International uses to provide a unique perspective regarding culture, performance, leadership, and team ‘fit’.

As the result of a formal partnership agreement between TRANSEARCH International and Slade Partners, four years ago I brought two long standing executive search leaders Bill Sakellaris and Sandra Brown into the TRANSEARCH International Executive Search partnership.  Recently Di Gillett has become a Partner of this global alliance with Grant White leading our Finance Practice. TRANSEARCH International is one of the foremost international Executive Search firms; a Top 10 in the sector by reach and reputation. TRANSEARCH is pivotal in identifying and securing Board members, ‘C’ suite executives and senior functional experts who have led the growth of global organisations.

Slade Group. My name’s still on the door and I hope will be for many more years.  Securing high performing talent at the professional, specialist, middle management and senior levels has been the mainstay of Slade for years.  The development of technology, AI, Boolean searches, job boards and social media have for the most part been a blessing, but sometimes also a curse. There is so much happening in the HRIS space that it’s sometimes hard not to be distracted by the next ‘tech start up offering’.   We decided a few years ago that we would, until Artificial Intelligence finally eats our lunch in 40 years or so, wisely invest in systems, and even more wisely in our people.

This year, for the first time, I’ve also welcomed the first equity partner into the Slade Group business, Chris Cheesman.  Chris, in his mid-30’s, is the future of recruitment and new ways of working.  He has a very different leadership style to mine and his team of mainly Gen Y and Millennials work to a new work order – together with our clients who are also now mainly Gen Y and Millennials in that space.

We’re very focused on knowing particular industry sectors and talent really well. If I could sum up our strengths it would be in the following areas:

  • Consumer, Digital and Entertainment
  • Education
  • HR
  • Industrial
  • Professional and Business Support
  • Superannuation and Fin Services
  • Technical and Property/Construction

The Interchange Bench. The name says it all. For the last few decades the business, then known as Slade Temps, placed mainly short and long term temps in administrative support roles.  Two years ago that changed and a huge up lift in demand for digital, technical, marketing communications, events, accounting and payroll staff,  as well as payrolling teams of casuals, meant we no longer felt the name served the business.

The Interchange Bench not only attracts premium talent for short term assignments but works with the 121 Modern Awards that cover the 1000s of roles our temporary and contract talent are asked to do. The team runs all day ensuring clients can secure talent on and off the ‘bench’ and into their workplaces for short and long contract periods.  We’ve invested heavily in systems and processes and also reduced the risk for organisations who want to outsource their payroll as well as trusting us with their FairWork and the Modern Awards compliance.

When I recap where the business is right now, I feel we’re right sized, focused and structured for the immediate future. It will be interesting for me to re-visit this blog in five years and report back on how the business has continued to change and evolve.

What are you doing in your world @work to set yourself up for future success?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work